Inbound Now #19 - Listening to the "Social Telephone" with Jay Baer

Jay Baer, social media strategist, speaker, and author, joins us for episode 19 of Inbound Now.

Jay is a social media strategist, a speaker, and President of his own agency, Convince & Convert and just launched his first book, The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social.

In this episode we chat about:

  • How to foster a social environment within your business
  • How to keep it real when engaging in social media
  • How to scale social media programs
  • What social media training should consist of
  • and take a look into the future of the social web


David: I just wanted to talk a little bit about your book, and I read a couple of blog posts you recently did. So I’ll just throw some questions your way.

Jay: Great. Awesome.

David: All right. Hey everybody. Welcome to Episode Number 19 of Inbound Now. Today I have a very special guest with us here, Mr. Jay Baer. Jay is a social media strategist, a tequila-loving social media strategist, let me correct that. He’s a speaker. He’s president of his own agency, Convince & Convert. There you go. We actually did a virtual shot right before we started the interview. He’s the co-author of a new book out, “The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social.”

Hey, look at that. I would’ve held up my iPad but it’s just not the same thing.

Jay: Did you get it on the iPad?

David: Yeah, I did.

Jay: How was it?

David: It was good.

Jay: Cool.

David: It was nice and easy to kind of jump around, and on the iPad, I like it because you can actually take notes and highlight stuff.

Jay: Awesome.

David: I guess you could do that in the book too.

Jay: You’d have to use a pen. That would be crazy.

David: Yeah, what is a pen any more?

Jay: What would you do with that?

David: Honestly. And his blog, Convince & Convert, is also featured on AdAge 150. I think he’s number 20 right now which is pretty impressive.

Jay: Right.

David: I’m really happy to have you on the show here, Jay.

Jay: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

David: No problem. 5I wanted to get you on the show today to talk about some of the core concepts from “The NOW Revolution” and how companies can start leveraging those things that you mentioned in the book and also how companies can start answering something that you called the social telephone.

Jay: Yeah.

David: I thought that was a key component of the book. I really liked that section of it. Then I wanted to ask you your take on where you see social media kind of moving into later 2011 and beyond, into the future. Sound good?

Jay: Absolutely.

David: Cool. All right, let’s jump into it. The first section of the book is you talk about engineering a new bedrock.

Jay: Yes.

David: You talk about how some companies are actually adopting social media, and it doesn’t really work unless the entire company adopts it into their culture. So what tips would you give some companies out there that are kind of struggling with this right now, how they can kind of foster this social vibe within their own company?

Jay: If you look at the companies that we consider to be good at social media, typically they are companies that have two things in common. One, they genuinely really care about their customers, and they’re willing to go the extra mile. Two, they operate with what we call in the book one head and one heart. They have a very clear cultural mission within the organization. They know what they’re about. They know where they’re going. Companies like HubSpot, like Southwest, JetBlue, Threadless. ThinkGeek we talk about as the example in the book who really do operate as one organism.

Because social impacts every corner of your company, everything that happens in your company manifests itself in social in some way, shape, or form, we feel, especially going forward that it’s incredibly important for companies to do one really critical thing, which is to start hiring for passion and training for skills. Find people in every position in your company that are super-psyched about whatever business that you’re in, and then teach them what you need to teach them to do whatever job they need to do.

But for the last thousand years businesses have been hiring for skills and passion has been secondary. We’ve got to change that. Social media makes it important to have people on your teams in every position that are psyched to be there.

David: Right. So in the interview, I’d to talk about the ThinkGeek interview that you had in the book.

Jay: Yeah.

David: So Jamie Grove, who you interviewed from ThinkGeek, he basically was saying that social media favors the real and the clever, right?

Jay: Yeah.

David: So what are some ways that companies could stay real in these social mediums, and how have you seen companies kind of messing that up?

Jay: I think the natural inclination is for companies to not talk about things that aren’t perfect and to intentionally try and turn every engagement into a sales pitch, because that’s what we’ve been taught to do as business people since the beginning of time. It’s create a corporate image. Worry about your corporate brand. Those are the kind of things where you’re like, well, if it’s bad news, we don’t talk about it. If it’s good news, we do a press release. We’ve always been taught that everything we do in business should have an immediate and measurable outcome. The reality is social media is both the fastest thing ever and the slowest thing ever. Right? Because you’re winning hearts and minds one at a time or a few at a time instead of lots and lots at a time.

What I always say is social media is the exact polar opposite of a Super Bowl commercial. It works the exact opposite way. You’re reaching just a few people, but you’re having a tremendous impact, in theory, with just those few people at a time.

David: So it’s much more of a long-term strategy, where the one-on-one connection is what’s really important. So how can companies scale that with the one-on-one connection there? It sounds really hard to scale. So what advice would you give there?

Jay: It is hard to scale. I won’t deny that. I mean, social media isn’t inexpensive. It’s just different expensive. You’re trading media dollars for labor dollars, and when you’re trying to reach and engage with customers and prospective customers one or a few at a time, it takes bodies. You’ve got to throw people at it. The way to do that, though, is not necessarily to say, “Let’s go higher more and more and more and more people on our marketing team.” You already have, in most companies, all the social media folks you need. They’re your existing employees. So when social media becomes part of everybody’s job, when everybody in your company is theoretically in marketing, even if they’re not in marketing, that’s where you really have something.

Everybody in your company is a marketer or a customer service person or a first responder. You just have to give them the tools and the training to do that. Everybody in your company can be somebody who’s out there engaging in social media from time to time and winning hearts and minds when it’s appropriate.

David: Right. That’s one of the things you talk about when hiring, right? Every single person is a potential spokesperson for your company.

Jay: Yeah. Well, here’s what happens day-to-day. I know you do this because you’re an online guy. But let’s say you’ve got an issue with a company and you don’t know anybody who works there. So instead of calling the 1-800 number, you might say on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook or via e-mail, “Hey, does anybody know anybody at this company?” You know what I’m talking about. You just put it out there to your network and see.

Invariably what happens is some sort of combination of this. Somebody gets back to you and says, “Well, I don’t know anybody in customer service, David, but I do know Bill. He’s their lawyer and I went to school with their lawyer, Bill.”

You’re like, well, okay, that’s not exactly what I was looking for, but I’ll take it, because you want a warm body. You want a human being. The reality is call centers are for suckers, and customers are going to figure that out. I’m not going to press 1 for English and 2 for billing and 3 for invoicing when I can just put it on Twitter and find a live body.

So you get a hold of Bill the lawyer, and now your lawyer is all of a sudden in customer service. That concept of everybody in your company being a potential first responder, we’re just scratching the surface of that. Every company is going to have that as a real-life circumstance. So it impacts how you train. It impacts who you hire, and that’s why cultural attributes are so important. Everybody in your company has got to be rowing the canoe in the same direction.

David: Right. You talk about training a little bit in the book as well. So what advice would you give there for internal training? Should you teach them everything under the sun related to social media or different pieces? Is the customer service piece still handled just primarily by the customer service department? You kind of said no there, but how does that work?

Jay: It’s a great question. I think you’ve got to teach people the basics, the cultural mores of social, which are different. They change and they’re primarily unwritten. So you have to explain to people how it works. But triage is really, really critical, right? And understanding, okay, if this happens, you either handle it yourself or you send it to somebody else, and here’s who you send it to. Really having issue resolution, both positive and negative, flow charts for companies. In this circumstance do this. In this circumstance do that. So everybody in the company knows how to handle situations that may arise.

The other thing about training is that it has to be ongoing. A lot of companies are now at the point where they’re saying, “Yeah, we did social media training for all of our employees last year.”

Interesting. Social media has changed an awful lot in one year. So if you’re going to do social media training every couple of years, that’s not going to be enough. It needs to be an ongoing, quarterly type of a program, and it needs to be specific. It needs to be around the circumstances that are probably going to happen to your company as opposed to some pie-in-the-sky JetBlue case study that’s probably not going to apply to your bakery, which is why in the book we very intentionally … most of the case studies that we included are small and medium size businesses so people can identify with them better, we think.

David: Right. One of the good cases I did enjoy from the book was the Ritz-Carlton. Basically, they were empowering their employees. They could solve a problem under $2,000 right on the spot.

Jay: That’s right.

David: Is that something that’s critical, empowering your employees?

Jay: Yeah. They’ve been doing that forever as a company, and it really isn’t a social media case study other than the fact that it has social media implications. But that is their culture. Their culture is everybody who works for Ritz-Carlton, from janitor up, has the ability to make it right for a customer without asking anybody, and you can do it immediately. That really is how companies are going to need to operate in social, because here’s the reality, David. You can’t call a committee meeting every time somebody sends a tweet about your company and say, “What should we do about this? How should we handle this?” Because by the time you send out the meeting request, it’s over. So you’ve got to trust your employees to make the right decision right now.

David: Right. Well, it’s either over, or it’s escalating exponentially online.

Jay: Right, yeah.

David: So that kind of leads to my next question. You talk a lot about brand experience in the book, and you quote Ze Frank, who’s one of my favorite online vloggers if you will.

Jay: Yeah.

David: Basically, he was explaining the brand as “the emotional aftertaste conjured up by, but not necessarily dependent on, a series of events that you have with the company.”

Jay: Yeah.

David: So, in your mind, how important is that kind of branding aspect within social media?

Jay: I think extraordinarily important, because so much of what you experience in social is not product related. It’s not service related. It’s the way that you handle circumstances. It’s how you handle your business. Look at it this way. Comcast, Southwest, lots and lots of other companies are putting a tremendous amount of resources in social media-powered customer service. There are two reasons for that. One, it’s efficient. But two, it changes the way we think about those companies because they’re doing customer service in social media. That impacts their brand and their brand perception. So even if you don’t have Comcast, if you’re not a Comcast customer, you think differently about Comcast because you know they’re really proactive in terms of handling their business in social. That’s part of the trend that we’re seeing now, is that how companies engage and really how human they are impacts kinship, and kinship drives purchase intent.

We do business with people that we know, people that we like, and people that we trust. Social media allows companies to act more like people, and that drives a lot of how we perceive them as brands.

David: Right. So I watched the recent speech that you did, and you say that “passion is the gasoline of social media.”

Jay: Yeah.

David: And using features and benefits and all that to build passion around your company just won’t work.

Jay: That’s right.

David: So is it kind of that kinship, that human aspect that will work as a communication in that medium, or what would you recommend there?

Jay: Yeah, it’s a great point. You have to have something that people are going to get psyched about, right? Just showing up to the party isn’t enough. Having a Facebook page or having a Twitter account doesn’t give you anything. It just means that you happen to exist. This notion of what I call “the one thing” is going to get more and more important, because as more and more companies dive into the social media pool and start to say, “Let’s interact with customers and prospects,” it’s an invitation avalanche that we’re faced with as customers. Everybody says friend me and follow me and read my blog and watch my video. It’s just like, “Whoa, it’s too much. Whoa, it’s too much!”

It’s a why. Why do I care about your blog? Why do I care about your Twitter account or your company? It’s like, “Well, because we make five different kinds of paper.” I’m like, “What?” So it’s got to be about soul, something that you really, really care about. And that is never, ever features and benefits.

Why are you a special company? Is it your history? Is it your people? Is it that you go the extra mile, like Zappos? Zappos isn’t a shoe company or an apparel company. It’s a customer service company.

David: Right.

Jay: That’s their one thing; it’s customer service. So every company has to figure out what’s really special, not at the product level but at the DNA level, and build social programs around that, because that’s what people are going to actually care about enough to take some sort of action.

David: Right. But I think a lot of companies, though, their product or their industry may not be that sexy. So it’s hard to come up with that identity, right?

Jay: It’s very difficult.

David: Like the paper example.

Jay: Yeah.

David: Like what would you, a paper company instead of going directly, “Oh yeah, we have five different kinds of paper,” would you say going with a hobby, kind of teaching around that? What would you recommend for a boring company?

Jay: I don’t think there is such a thing as boring companies. I think there are just lazy marketers, right?

David: Right.

Jay: There are a lot of companies I work with that are big B2B companies that are not sexy classically, but they still have stories to tell. I think a good one – and I just saw their videos the other day and they’re superlative, they’re amazing – is Red Wing Shoes. They make work boots in the U.S. and have for 200 years. Okay, they make shoes, whatever. But they have these amazing videos that tell their story about the fact that they still make everything in the U.S. You can send them shoes that are 25 years old, and they will repair them by hand in the factory and send them back to you.

They interview all of these people who are craftsmen. They are incredible cobblers, and they have been doing it for five generations. Their one thing, their brand position and they get people psyched is heritage. It’s heritage. You’ve got to dig a little deeper. But you’re right, it’s not easy.

Look at it this way. You talked about Ritz-Carlton. Ritz-Carlton is in the service business. Apple is in the innovation business. Volvo is in the safety business. Disney is in the magic business. You have to figure out what business you’re really in, and that’s not easy. If it was easy, every company could do it.

David: Right, totally. Switching gears a little bit from there, the fourth shift you talk about in the book is the concept of the social telephone.

Jay: Yeah.

David: It’s ringing. Companies need to be listening out there to what’s happening. So could you talk a little bit more about that and what business can do to (1) hear it, hear what’s going on, and (2) answer accordingly in the right way?

Jay: Yeah. That notion of the social telephone is a paradigm that Radian6 coined, and so we borrowed it from our friends at Radian6 and Amber and her team there. It’s this idea that people are always out there using the social web as a communications platform, and you can listen at the point of need.

Somebody says, “Hey, I’m interested in starting a new blog.” HubSpot can be like, “Well, hey, we can help you with that because we have blogging software.” Right?

David: Right.

Jay: So you aren’t necessarily out there saying, “And here’s a buy one-get one coupon.” It’s not a sales pitch necessarily. It’s sort of taking advantage of opportunities to help somebody. That’s the hard part for companies. The listening part isn’t that hard, because there are plenty of software packages that can help you find those conversations that are relevant to your company. So that part’s not terribly difficult. It’s what to say next. It’s what to say once you answer the phone.

The traditional playbook for companies is to answer the phone and then get right into sales mode. That is how you see a lot of companies using social media poorly. They try and turn it into a really, really short press release. Here’s the thing, the difference between helping and selling is just two letters, but those letters are incredibly important in social. You earn the right to promote in social by being helpful first. So you answer the phone and say, “Hey, I can give you some assistance.”

Pierre Martell of Martell Home Builders in Canada does this great. Somebody said something on Twitter about moving to the city where he operates, and he just jumps in there on Twitter and says, “Hey, I can help you. Do you need school reviews? Do you need restaurant reviews? Do you need to know where the churches are?” And then after that relationship is established, “Oh, by the way, I also sell houses.”

David: Right. I read that on our blog, the selling and helping, two letters separated, right? I was actually going to say that before you did, but you beat me to the punch!

But basically, what you’re saying is when you reach out to these people, point them to different resources. Be helpful and not salesy.

Jay: Yeah.

David: Once that relationship is kind of built, then it’s like, “Oh, by the way, we might have a solution that might help you.” But it’s still never that hard-sell, right?

Jay: Right. I think, and I’m not just saying this, I think HubSpot is one of the best companies in the world at that. The amount of resources and knowledge and expertise and content that the company publishes is extraordinary, but in each of those pieces of content, it’s not buy one-get one free, first month free, blah-blah-blah, shuck and jive, coupon special offer, dry-ice lasers.

David: Right.

Jay: Right? You let people draw their own conclusions about, “You know what? If these guys know this much stuff and they’re giving away this much content, surely they can help my business.”

David: Right.

Jay: And that’s the way to do it. You let people draw their own conclusion once you answer the social telephone.

David: Okay, cool. What are some things that companies should be listening in on? Industry discussions, brand mentions? Is there something that they should focus on?

Jay: Exactly. I work with a lot of companies and they say, “Sure, we’re listening. We are listening to the social conversation.” And what that means a lot of times is that they have a Google Alert set up for their brand name. That’s the sum total of their listening.

It’s like, “Okay. Well, that’s better than nothing, but we’ve got to get a little more nuanced than that.” You need to be listening for obviously your company name but also your product names, your employee names, your competitor names, their employees, their products, search terms that are appropriate to your industry, which is just one of the many areas where search and social are tied at the hip, and I think more so every day.

You ought to be looking at all of your Google Analytics reports. Everything that generates more than three or five visits a month to your website should be a search term that you’re also listening for across the social web.

David: Right, I totally agree there. In a recent post on your blog, “The Five Dangerous Realities of Social Media,” you talk about people are measuring wrong. Companies are measuring their social media activities in a wrong way.

Jay: Yeah.

David: You talk about goals before KPIs in your book as well.

Jay: Yeah.

David: So what should companies really be measuring and focusing on with their social media stuff?

Jay: Well, first and foremost from a goals perspective, I don’t think enough companies really understand why they’re in social media to begin with. You have a lot of, “Well, we’re doing it because we think we should or because our competitors are or because we read it in Business Week” or whatever. That’s not a super-compelling narrative.

You have to decide whether social media is helping you achieve awareness or sales or customer loyalty. How does it fit into your overall business objectives? That’s question one. Then question two is what behaviors can you measure to see whether that’s true? I emphasize “behavior” because we get way too caught up in measuring aggregation in social media, in measuring volumes. So how many Twitter followers do we have, or Facebook fans, or even blog visits or things like that? None of those are necessarily behaviors that generate income in any sort of a linear fashion.

I would much rather study things like downloads of a white paper from people who landed on our blog. I would much rather look at engaged fans and daily story feedback in Facebook, as opposed to total number of fans, things like that.

David: Right. Okay, cool. So moving into the future of the social web, what do you see on the horizon that companies should really be keeping their eye on, keeping tabs on?

Jay: Yeah. I think we are very much entering an era where the question changes from should we do social media to how do we do social media better? So social media science and the kinds of things that Dan Zarella does, I think that is a huge trend going forward, not only on the thought leadership side, but also there are a lot more tools and platforms and add-ons being developed that will allow companies to add a layer of science and optimization to their social media, which I think is going to be important.

I also think video is going to continue to explode. People are starting to get over their fear of video, and I firmly believe that every company needs to think of itself as its own TV station. So I think video is going to continue to take root.

The third piece I’d say is that decentralized social media, where it’s not just your social media manager in your company, but that lots and lots of people in your company have some role to play in social, that social becomes a skill, whereas today it’s really a job.

David: Right, I totally agree. And video is definitely, it’s hard to get into, but once you start doing it, you get used to it.

Jay: You’re like, “Why was I so scared of this, right?”

David: Exactly.

Jay: This wasn’t that bad.

David: It’s a little nerve-wracking at first, like interviewing people, but you get used to it.

Cool. Where can people find you online, Jay?

Jay: You can find me on my blog, Convince & Convert, which is On Twitter @jaybaer. The book is available in all your major places and formats and stuff like that. The website for the book is, and Amazon and Kindle and iBook and Nook and all that crazy stuff.

David: Yeah, definitely check out his blog and the book. I definitely recommend the book. I read it over the weekend, and it’s really opened my eyes for a couple of different things that I didn’t think about before. So I highly recommend it.

Jay: Awesome.

David: Jay, thanks for coming on the show.

Jay: All the good parts were Amber’s. Amber wrote all the good parts, and I wrote all the funny parts.

David: Yeah. I was reading the Listening Section, and I’m like Amber probably wrote this. She probably wrote this.

Jay: Well, it stands to reason, right, since she’s in the listening business.

David: Right.

Jay: So she’d have a good handle on that piece of it.

David: Totally. Well, thanks for coming on the show, Jay, and I definitely want to get you back moving into the future.

Jay: Anytime, you bet. Let me know. My pleasure, thanks so much.

David: Cool, thanks.

The alternative title for this post was “Inbound Now 18 - The (NOW) Revolution will not be televised, It will be within Social Media w/ Jay Baer.” Which do you like better?